Leaving Jackson, Wyoming early in the morning, we arrived in San Diego, California. In the early afternoon, we drove to El Centro, to meet our interviewee “Malachi” (Mathis). Mathis asked to meet at a local LGBT Resource Center, as his identity as both autistic and LGBT would play an important part in everything he told us about his life and the comfort and expressive freedom his avatars allow him.
After being picked up from the airport, we rode a van to the town of El Centro, about 120 kilometers away. This trip in itself was very scenic and interesting; outside of San Diego, the highway crossed the Californian desert, only a few kilometers away from the border with Mexico. The desert heat was inclement, with temperatures of about 46 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit), which made some areas seem like ghost towns (with most residents preferring to keep themselves indoors during the day). El Centro has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
After a long flight, lunch at a roadside Denny’s.
This picture was taken just outside of San Diego. As you can see, here there was still a lot of vegetation in the hills surrounding the city.
Only a few kilometers away, the lush hills surrounding San Diego give way to rocky desert mountains.
The Empire Valley is a vast desert. One main reason for its extremely hot weather is that this area is one of the lowest points in the United States, well below sea level.
A parking lot scene in El Centro, where we would first meet Mathis and his partner Jenny.
NHK going into the local LGBT Resource Center, where Mathis arranged for our interview to take place.
Mathis (center, identifies as bisexual), Jenny (left, identifies as female) and Dr. Ikegami.
Giving presents from Japan.
Start of the interview.
Jenny is a big support to Mathis. Throughout the conversation, Mathis would frequently reiterate how much Jenny has been part of his life over recent years. Mathis is originally from North Carolina, but due to family problems he moved in with Jenny in California a few years ago.
The crew listening to Jenny and Mathis intently.
Signing into Second Life, to include their virtual presence.
Mathis has many avatars (of which he showed us no less than seven). Each is a representation of Mathis’ different moods. This is Mathis’ favorite avatar “Malachi”, a feline with big turquoise butterfly wings.
The couple as Jena and Malachi, in Second Life. Malachi is a very expressive avatar; while he speaks, magical balls of light form in his hands and lightly float away. Jenny is here on this occasion, but does not often attend the discussion group.
Another of Mathis’ avatar expressions.
Inspired by My Little Pony.
Jenny explains that next month their plan is to leave El Centro and move to Las Vegas, where she will attend college. This move will allow them to become independent and Mathis will look for a job. El Centro was devastated by the economic crisis of 2008-2009; currently it has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country (20.1% in 2016).
Jenny proudly displays a banjo built from scratch.
The NHK crew wanted to film Jenny and Mathis’s daily lives (in this case, how they go about shopping for groceries at a local supermarket). Spaces are narrow, and Mr. Takeuchi has to be careful filming while walking backwards.
Outside of the supermarket.
Jenny and Mathis took us for a walk in the park. By this time, the sun was setting and temperatures were finally coming down.
The NHK crew briefly interviewed the couple in the park. When asked “what would you like to say to our viewership?”, Mathis responded that as an LGBT person and as an autistic person, he wishes for others to realize we are all the same: wanting happiness, to live our lives in peace, and to be able to develop ourselves.
Final picture of the day, just as the sun sets in the desert of California, the hopes and dreams of these two are reflected in their attitudes toward life.
6/27 Malachi, Surrounded by Friends (El Centro, California) Day 2
6/24 and 6/25 – Larre, Peace of Trance in Second Life (Jackson, Wyoming) Days 2 and 3